As we gather more and more of the early history of the Kinglake district, we are continually impressed with the enterprise and resourcefulness of the pioneer farming families. Due to the ideal soil and climate of the area, fruit-growing became the main form of land use, with raspberries as the principal 'cash crop' for may, while orchards in the area produced good crops of apples and plums.
But getting the fruit to market was a big problem, not so much for apples, perhaps, but certainly for berries and soft fruits. Jolting along by horse and wagon on the rough and pot-holed unmade roads around the district and down the mountain to the Whittlesea railway station caused considerable damage. Poor quality fruit sold at a lower market price resulting in reduced income for the farmers.
Although we have not been able to find any documented evidence, it seems likely that either John Lawrey, whose large farm, 'The Uplands', was first established in the 1880s, contacted the Australasian Jam Company (AJC) in South Melbourne, or AJC contacted John Lawrey with a proposal. One way or the other, the result was that John Lawrey was duly appointed the AJC agent for the Kinglake district. An agreement was apparently negotiated and, in 1900, the Kinglake Fruit Growers Co-operative (KFGC) was formed with 44 local farmers signed up to buy shares.
With this fund, and perhaps with assistance from AJC, an acre of land was purchased at Kinglake Central and a large split-paling shed, 30 feet by 50 feet, was built on it. Equipment installed in the shed included a 16 horse power steam boiler, 2 copper pans, a large pouring pan and a set of scales. Outside, a well and an iron tank were installed to supply water for the boiler.
The KFGC then set about taking in the fruit from local farms, converting it to jam pulp and sending it off in large tins to the AJC factory where the second jam-making process took place. This solved the problem of damage during transport and meant a much higher price from AJC for the farmers. John Lawrey was appointed manager of the business, his younger brother, Peter, was the jam maker, and Alf Pearson's job was to solder the lids on the tins.
The KFGC operated successfully from 1900 to the end of 1908 by which time other prospects were on the horizon. Leggo's of Bendigo had decided to establish a 'jam factory' in the district so the local co-operative was dissolved and, in January 1909, its assets were up for sale. John Lawrey bought the land and the shed on it for £40, and the equipment, including 302 new pulp tins, 192 second-hand pulp tins, 96 dozen small jam tins and 16 dozen wooden packing cases, were bought by other jam companies.
The first Leggo's factory opened in 1910 on Mount Slide Road and a second one at Kinglake Central in 1914. But it was the local farmers, in seeking to solve their own problem with initiative and a spirit of co-operation, who had proved the viability of such an enterprise.
It's interesting to note that transport to market became easier in 1911 when the wooden railway to Whittlesea was built by local timber mill owners and could be used to transport farm produce as well. I should also mention that the Lawrey family later donated the acre of land at Kinglake Central as a public park, and a memorial stone still stands there in memory of John and Elizabeth Lawrey and the Kinglake pioneer families.